Christina and her husband Japp farm near Bow Island. When I asked how Christina wanted to be described she said, “I’m a farm wife and mom just trying to get through!” and we laughed. She and I had just caught up for nearly half-an-hour as we talked about raising kids, farming, husbands, and yes, Mary and our Catholic faith. Anyone who knows Christina knows she tells it like it is. It was a fantastic, refreshing conversation.
As we were talking I learned that though she is a cradle Catholic, Christina grew up attending a Protestant youth group, and instead of causing her faith to waver, she said, it actually did the opposite, especially in regards to Our Lady. “That’s why I’m confident that we can go to her and pray with her.”
“If Jesus is the son of God,” she said, “then who is this person who God chose to be His mother? If she’s special enough for God, then she’s special enough for me.”
With a firm foundation of Our Lady’s importance, Christina said she, like so many of us has had “no ‘aha Mary’ moment.”
“She had one perfect kid and a saint for a husband,” she exclaimed at one point in our chat and I laughed in agreement because I have often felt exactly the same way. It’s true that sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to look for similarities between ourselves and Mary.
“We’re so ordinary and boring,” she said, “I love Mary; I need Mary; we named our oldest child Mary after her, but we just do normal Catholic stuff.”
By normal, Christina meant that they ask Mary’s intercession and pray the Rosary as a family.
A regular family rosary has long been an ambition of mine, but I’ll admit that we haven’t made it happen, which is why I admire that Christina and Japp did it this past Lent, which also coincided with the time that the farm holds a few less demands, and therefore allows Japp to be there for dinner and bedtime.
Christina said, “when it’s just me by myself with five kids, we manage a decade of the Rosary and sometimes it’s pretty ugly, but I just trust that Mary is happy that the children are there and that she knows that it is just life with little kids.”
“With the way the world is lately,” said Christina, we have felt called to be praying more and to make a point to do it with the kids, and to have the kids see us praying as well.”
May crowning of Mary are a beautiful way to honor Our Lady this month, and Christina said that they’d thought of doing that this year since her daughter Mary will be celebrating her First Communion a little differently than would normally happen.
As I prepare one of my own sons for the sacraments, I’m intrigued by this idea too.
When I first met Pat, it was as a parishioner of St. Bernard’s parish where her son Fr. Nathan had recently moved. After Mass one Sunday while visiting our parish, Pat and her husband Brian who had sat behind us with our wiggly bunch of four little boys, paused to talk to us and let us know that our Mass experience had been a flashback to theirs not-too-many years before. I have been grateful for that conversation ever since and have often thought of it as I have dealt with normal little boy behaviour time and again.
Raising a bunch of boys is a task unto itself, but raising them in the Catholic faith is a thing Pat knows about very well. It wasn’t always the case though, she said, recounting a wake-up-call she experienced when preparing her oldest for First Communion. “It was like being hit over the head with a 2x4,” she said, “I realized he didn’t know anything.”
Though raised in a thoroughly Catholic home, Pat said that her years in university “weakened my faith. I never stopped believing or attending Mass, but I will admit that I became a Sunday Catholic.”
Teaching her sons would bring Pat deeper into the fold of the faith, with Our Lady playing a key role.
In 1991 Pat went on pilgrimage to well-known apparition site Medjugorje,
“That made a huge difference in my life,” she said, “Mary played a huge role in guiding me and leading me back to her Son.”
Pat started praying the Rosary again and talking to her sons about Jesus and Mary and the Church. It took her two weeks to fully unpack all that had happened in Medjugorje to awaken her faith to Brian, and “he was fascinated,” she said. “My experience changed his life.”
I first met Sarah when we travelled to World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 as part of an over 80 person group. My now-husband made the same trip, and it was he who suggested I give Sarah a call.
The Stamp family resides in Vauxhall, Alberta and their story is a beautiful one. They have six children and “one in heaven,” Sarah said.
Mary Josephine is the name of the baby that Sarah and her husband Greg said goodbye to 9 years ago this October when she passed away at 20 weeks gestation.
“I’d like to say that the praying the rosary was comforting,” she said, “but really, at the time it felt like just going through the motions.
But, I think going through the motions brings us hope; we live the hope by just saying the words.”
I was awestruck by how much wisdom Sarah has as a result of her family’s loss, and by the ardent conviction that Our Lady was there all along.
“She picks you up and keeps pushing you toward her son,” Sarah said. “I think she helps you to trust Jesus more.”
Later, Sarah found an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows that touched her heart enough to hang it on her wall. “She has this little tear on her face. It is just so beautiful to me – that she cries with us, and that she feels our pain.
She has always been my mother, but somehow this icon makes her real.
“I know that without tears of sorrow, we wouldn’t be able to love as God calls us to love, and in my time of sorrow, she was right there with me.”
With incredible strength, Sarah and her family carry on, but with new hope.
“When I experienced the pain that I hope no one experiences,” she said, “I got to know what it meant to love Jesus. He was so close. There was a point where I couldn’t even stand, and I needed to lean on people, but also, the more I leaned on Mary, the closer I came to Jesus.”
“I also think sometimes “Mary gets to hold my baby,” and through all of this, I have realized that heaven is a lot closer than I thought.”
I could have talked to Sarah for another hour or more, but as our little ones started to need us, one of the last things she said about Our Lady really struck me: “Part of Mary’s power is in loss; when mothers have lost so much there are no words in our hearts, it is a broken heart that you’ve never felt before, and that can really crush you.
“But I ask myself, if this hadn’t happened to us, would I have been that connected with Mary?”
These are words that I myself will contemplate for years to come. All of us have some suffering and grief, and though it’s hard sometimes to see that the Queen of Heaven understands there are sometimes powerful reminders, like Sarah’s story that she truly does.
“I love that God gave us an example to follow – he gave us a mother, and did not leave us alone.”
To grow up with the name Mary puts a lot of pressure on a Catholic girl. Emulating Our Lady is hard even for those of us who don’t share her name, but who can blame Catholic parents the world over?
Mary Ma has lived 22 years with the name, and recently came to have a deeper relationship with her namesake, the Blessed Virgin.
“I haven’t always had a robust relationship with Mary,” she said, admitting that “I found her unapproachable and I became discouraged because she was sinless and I knew I could never be like her.”
But it was in 2019 while meditating on the Annunciation as part of a Catholic Christian Outreach faith study that changed things. “One of the topics was Our Lady’s docility to the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation and that study made me see her as a person.”
“When I was a child, I prayed the rosary with my family and no one would think that I didn’t have a strong relationship with Mary.”
On Ash Wednesday this year, Mary completed the Consecration to Mary guided by Fr. Michael Gaitley in his book 33 Days to Morning Glory.
"Marian consecration basically means giving Mary our full permission (or as much permission as we can) to complete her motherly task in us, which is to form us into other Christs." Gaitley says in the book.
On Ash Wednesday Mary said she “levelled with (the Blessed Mother), saying I know I haven’t been a good daughter, and I have been distant, but I am going to try to love you personally.”
Certainly now, Mary has solidified her faith in the Blessed Mother by joining a branch of the Legion of Mary as part of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Community. Nine or ten members meet weekly to pray the rosary and keep one another accountable in their journeys to serve Christ.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers